Emotionally resilient people tend to think differently to those who are more vulnerable. In particular, they respond differently to failure.
Imagine that big sale you were on the point of closing falls through at the last minute. How do you feel? – Bad – maybe even terrible. That’s understandable. You put in all of that work and it’s for nothing. Now you are worried about your manager’s response and maybe even about your job.
Feeling bad when you fail is normal and emotionally tough people feel this just as much as emotionally vulnerable people. So what’s the difference? The difference lies in how you understand the causes of failure – and to what you attribute it.
Let’s take two people – Sam and Helen, each of whose deals has fallen at the last hurdle. Both are upset when they hear the news and spend the day brooding on what happened.
Sam thinks “I should never have got into sales – I knew I wasn’t cut out for it – I’m not a good negotiator, I can’t close the deal. I am a failure – I don’t know how I’m going to make a living.”
Helen thinks: “I really messed up there – what an idiot! I nearly had it – it was that last email he sent, if only I had said yes to that last condition – but I thought I had him. And then there were those economic figures in the news that morning – that spooked him, I know.”
A week later, Sam is morose and anxious while Helen is back to her bouncy, optimistic and confident self. Why? Because Sam has a tendency to use an explanatory style that dooms him to feel low and anxious in the face of failure.
While thinking about the failed deal, Sam attributed the cause to himself – he made it personal. Helen, while taking some of the blame, also considered that the morning’s bad economic figures had played a part: an external not a personal factor.
Sam considered that the failed deal was because of something wrong with him, and therefore something that is permanent. For Helen, the cause of her failure was temporary –with hindsight she realises that she made a mistake in how she responded to the client’s last email.
Finally, for Sam the failed deal was caused by something pervasive in his life. To Helen, the failure was specific to this situation, and had nothing to say about her in general.
No wonder that a week later, Sam was anxious and low while Helen was bouncy and positive. Sam had thought himself into a situation where the failure was personal, permanent and pervasive – leaving little hope for his future success. To Helen, the failure was external, temporary and specific – she was ready for the next challenge.
So here’s the good news – thoughts are just thoughts and we can learn to change how we think about failure. If we do that, we will become more emotionally resilient and probably even more successful.